DHamāl and the Performing Body: Trance Dance in the Devotional Sufi Practice of Pakistan*

in Journal of Sufi Studies
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Abstract

Guided by the hypnotic repetitive sound of drums, the ritual trance dance known as dhamāl belongs to the multiple worlds of Pakistani Sufi shrines and is characteristic of the concrete devotional practices of rural people and the urban poor, especially in Sindh and the Punjab. Drawing on Ronald L. Grimes’s concept of distinguishing various modes of embodied ritual attitudes, the study explores the performance and aesthetics of this public, predominantly collective dance at two selected ethnographic settings, differentiating three groups of actors in terms of ritual structure, techniques of the body, gestural grammar and gender-related kinaesthetic styles. Apart from marked differences between performers, these modes of ritual sensibilities co-exist and interpenetrate each other whereby the celebrative form of interaction with the beloved saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar remains the central theme. DHamāl is a full-bodied, active experience of mystical devotion which belongs to the ‘social habitus’ of the dancers and can be considered a pattern of appropriate ritual action embedded in the local cultures of both Sindhis and Punjabis which is shared among Muslims as well as Hindus.

DHamāl and the Performing Body: Trance Dance in the Devotional Sufi Practice of Pakistan*

in Journal of Sufi Studies

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